We love a good pair of hiking pants. We've spent the last 8 years testing 35 different ones. For our 2020 iteration, we compare the best 17 models available — bought, tested, and examined in-depth. Our experts took to the trails to do some legs-on testing in order to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each pair. We focus on a handful of metrics that matter the most, including all-day comfort, breathability as temps rise, versatility for multiple types of recreation, and weather resistance. After all of the dust has settled, we awarded the best of the best pants for overall performance, budget shoppers, and specific uses.
The Best Hiking Pants of 2020
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants
We think that the Outdoor Research Ferrosi is the best overall pair of hiking pants in this review. This model is extremely comfortable, offers a high degree of wearer mobility, and keeps you cool as you work up a sweat. They are made of durable ripstop fabric, and incorporate a higher-than-average 14% spandex to ensure maximum mobility for hiking, running, yoga, or high stepping on rock. They are also very light, thin, and highly breathable, making them an ideal choice for hot weather.
Their high performance in the dry heat makes them less than ideal on cold or windy days; they just don't provide quite enough protection for skinny legs. We also couldn't help but notice that the waist sizing is a little off. These pants are cut to sit lower on the hips and with repeated wear, they slide a little lower if you don't have a belt. Even so, we think that they are an awesome all-purpose pair that especially shines in hot weather.
Read Review: Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants
Best Bang for the Buck
REI Co-op Savanna
Not only is it one of the least expensive pants that we tested, but the REI Co-op Savanna is also a great value. Despite the low price, this pair is reasonably water-resistant while also staying lightweight and breathable. It has four pockets (two front and two rear), elastic in the waist, and cinch cords in the ankles that allow the wearer to secure them around hiking boots or roll them up in warmer weather.
There are a few things that we aren't thrilled about with this model. The fit can be a little weird — you may want to consider sizing up. The feature set is also pretty minimalist, so if big, zippered pockets are what you are going for, look elsewhere. However, at the end of the day, the performance of the Savanna is solid enough that we would recommend this pair to anyone who prioritizes functionality and value.
Read Review: REI Co-op Savanna
Best for Climbing
Prana Stretch Zion
The Prana Stretch Zion is our top pant recommendation for climbing — a testament to their durability and versatility. We love the cargo pocket with zippers on both sides, which means that we can easily reach a phone or topo while sitting at a belay. We also enjoy the small but practical integrated waist tightener, which means these pants can stay up without a belt. Combined with some of the softest and most comfortable fabric of any of the models that we tested, it is no wonder that these pants are one of our favorites.
While these were our top pair of pants for climbing, they are not without their flaws. The fabric is a bit heavy and densely woven for hiking in hot weather. They are much more effective when the temperature is on the cooler side. They also aren't as water-resistant as most, so if wet weather is in your future, look elsewhere. However, if comfort is your top priority, then we would strongly recommend trying on this pair of pants.
Read Review: Prana Stretch Zion
Best Weather Resistance
Arc'teryx Gamma LT Pant
The Arc'teryx Gamma LT is the splurgy hiker's dream. They are super comfortable, lightweight, and great for a variety of activities. Their water and wind resistance make them a great choice for cool, wet-weather hikes. They also come equipped with a drawstring at the cuff, so if the sun comes out and the temperature rises, you can roll them up and keep cool. These strings at the cuff can even perform double-duty, converting to makeshift gaiters if needed. We're also fans of the integrated belt on the Gamma LT. The features they do include are thoughtful, and the fabric offers superior stretch.
The primary drawback is that these pants are pricey. You could certainly spend less on a different model and not tell too much of a difference. We also think it is an unusual choice not to include any rear pockets. Even with these things in mind, we can't help but love this model. We will definitely be pulling on a pair during future adventures, especially when inclement weather is in the forecast.
Read Review: Arc'teryx Gamma LT Pant
Best for Trail to Town
Royal Robbins Alpine Road
The Royal Robbins Alpine Road is for the casual business professional that goes straight from the office to the trail. This pair combines a more formal 'office style' with the functionality of a backcountry hiking pant. They come with elastic cinch cords in the ankles and the thigh pocket is fairly discrete. They felt interior waist liner also adds to their comfort.
We do acknowledge that there are a few tradeoffs with these pants. Because of how they are meant to look, only one of the pockets has a zipper, which left us feeling like we wanted a little more security. They also have a higher than average proportion of polyester and less elastane than the typical pair, which means that there also isn't quite as much stretch in the fabric. Even so, their seamless adaptability between the front and backcountry makes them an excellent choice in our book.
Read Review: Royal Robbins Alpine Road
Why You Should Trust Us
Lead testers Ben Applebaum-Bauch and Andy Wellman love a good backcountry adventure. Andy is an avid climber, hiker, and alpine skier. He has published multiple bouldering and climbing guides of the American southwest and knows the value that a comfortable, protective pair of hiking pants can provide. Ben got his professional start in the outdoor industry as a trip guide and has led multi-week backpacking, cycling, and canoeing trips throughout northern New England and maritime Canada. He is also an avid thru-hiker, passing under the baking sun and over the snowfields of the Pacific Crest Trail and through the whipping winds and summer hail storms of the Colorado, Long, Oregon Coast, and Appalachian trails.
Our process begins by researching dozens of models on the market. We then purchase the top contenders and get down to hands-on testing. We took these pants out in the rain, shine, and wind. We tested models in a variety of locations, including the Cascades of Oregon, the desert of Southern Utah, the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The majority of our testing took place on hikes and camping adventures. We look at each pair's comfort and mobility and how well they protected us from the elements; whether they kept us dry (enough) in the rain or allowed us to stay cool in the damp heat of summer. In addition to a variety of activities on the trail, we wore them for everyday use, hoping to get a compliment or two on our refined style as well as for occasional long-haul air travel.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Pants
Analysis and Test Results
We assess each model in five separate metrics that we feel are most important contributors to the performance and quality of any pair of hiking pants: comfort and mobility, venting and breathability, versatility and style, weather resistance, and features. Each metric is weighted based on our assessment of its relative importance to the overall function of a pair of hiking pants. Though some models excel in particular areas, in all cases, we rate pants based on their performance compared to the competition. That is, the highest-scoring model from our testing is the best overall. With that in mind, we recognize that each wearer is going to have different priorities. If, for example, versatility is most vital to you, we encourage you not just to look at a product's overall score, but to also focus in on that specific metric to discover how each product performs at a more granular level.
Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Pants
Value isn't included in a product's overall score, but it is an important consideration in any purchase. While the adage, "you get what you pay for" often rings true, our years of testing experience have taught us that the highest-priced products are not necessarily the highest performing. For us, value is the price of an item relative to its overall score. That is, models with higher scores and lower prices are considered a better value than those with lower scores and higher prices. Several high-priced models we have tested have more niche appeal than general appeal, especially in their wet-weather applications. If you need this level of protection, it's easier to justify the price. If you don't, we think selecting a lower-priced model will serve you and your wallet better.
For general use, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi and Patagonia Quandry are examples of models that have good value. They are high performing for a wide range of uses and look pretty good without costing as much as the more niche-filling pants that excel in poor weather. REI also tends to make pants with a lot of value. The REI Co-op Savanna pants provide simple functionality without a lot of features, style, or, most importantly, expense. They get the job done without asking you to fork over too much cash. You will have to spend a little more, though, if you're interested in form and function.
Comfort and Mobility
The most critical consideration for most outdoor clothing is how comfortable it is. In the context of hiking pants, comfort means that the pair moves and stretches with the wearer; not limiting, not pinching, not rubbing or riding up, not annoying or distracting. The product should enhance your outdoor experience, not detract from it. Our thinking is that if it isn't comfortable, the rest of the metrics probably don't matter nearly as much.
Comfort goes hand-in-hand with mobility. The more a model facilitates free movement, the better. The majority of pants in this review achieve their comfort by incorporating some amount of stretchy material, such as spandex or elastane, to increase user mobility.
Some pants, such as the Patagonia Quandary, Kuhl Deceptr and Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights have a slim fit but compensate with an increased stretchiness, maintaining mobility for the wearer. The Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2, Arc'teryx Gamma LT, and Outdoor Research Ferrosi include a high-than-average proportion of the stretchy material elastane. The high-scoring Prana Brion, Prana Stretch Zion and Royal Robbins Alpine Road have lower proportions of stretchy material, but they somehow perform well-above what one might expect based on the numbers alone. This is due, at least in part, to the multi-directional elasticity of their fabrics.
Other models, such as the Fjallraven Vidda Pro and REI Co-op Savanna offer minimal stretch in the fabric and promote mobility with a looser, more relaxed cut. The Kuhl Radikl pants also have a more regular fit but include strategically placed panels of super stretchy fabric at the knees, crotch, and lower back, to facilitate mobility. The cut is also an essential factor but could be heavily dependent on the body type and shape of the wearer.
As we move into the bottom of this metric, we have pants like the Arc'teryx Lefroy and The North Face Paramount Active, which have a slim fit that just feels pretty restrictive. The Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants have a different issue — their material is fairly static. Paired with a waist that stretches slightly after many wears, and they don't stay up as well as models with an integrated belt, or more resilient fabric.
Venting and Breathability
We love hiking pants over shorts for their ability to protect from the wind, cold, and underbrush. However, if you are using them primarily for sun protection, you know that venting and breathability are also key. The best hiking pants are going to shield the wearer from the elements while keeping them cool and dry. Breathability is a quality of certain types of fabric that refers to the ability to release moisture (in this case, sweat). This can vary based on fabric thickness, weave density, and material. Venting refers to specific features included in a pair of pants that facilitate the same. Things like zippered vents, mesh-lined pockets, and rollable cuffs are types of vents.
To assess venting and breathability, we primarily rely on field testing. Much of this time is in the direct rays of the desert sun, where we could quickly work up a sweat. We also test each pair in a more controlled setting, running up the same incline in similar weather conditions, paying close attention to how effectively each pair kept us cool relative to the others.
Not surprisingly, the pants made of the lightest and thinnest fabric tended to be the most breathable, while the pants with the most mesh and zippered vents cooled us off the quickest and prevented us from getting too sweaty in the first place. The REI Savanna is surprisingly lightweight and breathable as is the award-winning Outdoor Research Ferrosi, making both of them solid choices for wearing in hot climates. The KUHL Radikl incorporates super stretchy spandex panels for comfort, but they also notably increase ventilation in key areas.
There are some in-between options like the Royal Robbins Alpine Road and the Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2 which, are moderately breathable and offer ventilation primarily by rolling up the legs and securing the elastic cinch cord in the ankles. The pants that we find are the least breathable are also the thickest and heaviest and have the fewest vents. With its extraordinarily dense and heavy G-1000 fabric and no vents, the Fjallraven Vidda Pro is a pant designed exclusively for cooler weather. The Fjallraven Abisko Trekking Tights are a bit of an enigma; some panels are light and breathable, but the reinforced areas around the knees and seat get quite sweaty. The Arc'teryx Lefroy also has thicker fabric — great for wind resistance — less impressive on breathability.
Versatility and Style
Versatility is a model's ability to maintain functionality in a variety of conditions and activities. Sure, there is specialized clothing for different activities, but we want to know how well each pair can crossover from one thing to the next. After all, if you are traveling far or remote, you probably want to minimize what you pack and get the best utility from what you do bring. In the backcountry, the most versatile pants should perform well not only during a hike up a mountain but should be more than serviceable for activities like climbing and paddling. In the front country, pants should also be functional enough for long-haul travel, everyday outdoor work, yoga, and workout routines.
At a basic level, style is how the pants look. We recognize that style in an of itself isn't obviously important for measuring performance, however, a pair that looks good will have greater versatility over a pair that doesn't (all other things being equal).
Holding down one of the top spots in the metric is the Royal Robbins Alpine Road, which combines high performance with superb style and adaptability between trail and town. Rounding out the top tier are the Prana Brion, Prana Stretch Zion, and Arc'teryx Gamma LT for their flexibility in the backcountry and utility for long-distance travel. With their stretchier fabrics, the Outdoor Research Ferrosi, Patagonia Quandary, and Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2 served us well when we needed to scramble and stretch.
Then there are the middle tier pants like the REI Co-op Savanna, which are high on utility for hiking and outdoor work but have a limited fashion appeal. Conversely, there is the Kuhl Deceptr, which just looks better than it actually performs.
Lower scorers include the Kuhl Radikl, The North Face Paramount Active, and the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible, which we found are each more limited to standard hiking and walking, which don't require a lot of high-stepping or flexibility.
If rain is in the forecast, you'll want to be protected. Though none of the pants in this review claim to be fully waterproof, quality water resistance is a huge bonus for a pair of hiking pants. We also consider wind resistance when assessing performance. Together, both of these characteristics can be tricky to balance with venting and breathability, but some models in this review have decent success.
To that end, most of these pants are designed to keep you as dry as possible while remaining lightweight and comfortable. To achieve this, most come with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating applied to the outside. This chemical coating helps the fabric shed precipitation. These treatments do wear off over time, especially if you wash your pants frequently in the washing machine, so if you are planning a long trip with a much-beloved pair of pants, you should apply a new DWR finish before you head out.
To test water resistance, we wore these pants outside as often as we could in wet weather. For a slightly more controlled environment, we also conduct a spray test, giving each pair an even spritz to understand the process of saturation and water beading. Things we look for are how well the DWR coating works right off the rack and after washing. Some pants absorb water faster, but take longer to saturate overall, meaning that it takes longer for water to actually reach the wearer's skin. Another important feature is how long the pants take to dry out after the skies clear.
The most weather resistant pants are the Arc'teryx Gamma LT, followed closely by the Arc'teryx Lefroy. The DWR coating on these models does a great job of shedding water even after a lot of wear, and there is minimal absorption. These pants also dry out quickly since the water stays on the surface. The Gamma LT stands out as a step above, balancing water resistance and comfort and mobility the best. A handful of pants in this review fall into the solid second tier, including the Patagonia Quandary, Royal Robbins Alpine Road, and Kuhl Deceptr. It is no surprise that the pairs with the thinnest fabric — the Outdoor Research Ferrosi and REI Savanna — are also the fastest to dry.
We are intrigued by the performance of the wax impregnated Fjallraven Vidda Pro pant, which eschews the now-standard chemical DWR coating in favor of a more natural and customizable treatment. So long as you are willing to take the time for the initial treatment, they can withstand moisture about as well as (or better than) any other pair in this review. But, with the other pairs, you don't have to work so hard for it.
Features are all of the parts of a pair of pants beyond what is minimally necessary. These are the thoughtful design elements that enhance a wearer's experience. Each pair has its own set of unique features, including the type and number of pockets and their location, waist tightening systems, and belts, roll-up snaps/cinches, ventilation holes, and crotch zippers. Some of these features were functional additions that inspired our adoration, while others were excessive and frustrating.
Our primary focus during testing was whether the features included proved to be practical and functional. For example, having the option to roll up the legs and cinch them down when the weather gets warmer is useful, and we did a similar analysis of pocket layout and location, as well as for waist tightening systems.
In short, the more useful and functional features a pant included, the higher the score. Products that received a lower rating either included few useful features, or the features that they had didn't function nearly as well as competitors. Favorite features among our testers include pockets that are large enough and deep enough to be functional, integrated belts, and the ability to roll up (and keep up) pant legs.
The KUHL Renegade pant boasts the most robust feature set. It has a ton of pocket options for those who like to have all their trail trinkets handy and organized. The Fjallraven Vidda Pro is similarly loaded with pockets. We are also partial to pairs that streamline their offerings but have high-quality execution. This tier includes models like the Prana Stretch Zion, Royal Robbins Alpine Road, Arc'teryx Gamma LT, and Mountain Hardwear Chockstone/2.
Hiking pants offer a large handful of benefits over shorts, and often for activities beyond hiking and backpacking. With so many options on the market, the challenge is trying to decide which ones to buy. While comfort is usually a top priority, the climate in which you spend most of your time can dictate what other metrics are most important to you. We hope that this review helps you in your next pants purchase. Happy trails.
— Ben Applebaum-Bauch & Andy Wellman